Saturday, February 07, 2009

Politics, economics and lightbulbs

Nearly finished with Friedman's Flat, Hot and Crowded, and I was amazed to see that near the end he actually says that we need to be China for a day, so that we can dictate certain things (like China dictated an end to thin-film plastic bags) and then be America the next day to implement and enforce our China-esque dictates. He is just as pessimistic as I am about the effect of the entrenched dirty fuels industries on our ability to do what needs doing -- those things will take many decades, rather than many years. We may not have many decades to make the changes we need to make.

I also reread Law, Economics and Torture, by James Boyd White, soon to be released as a book, along with the other conference proceedings with which it was presented about 2 years ago in Ann Arbor. It is an excellent and very thought-provoking essay. Although he doesn't talk in terms of Congressional inability to get things done that are clearly and unambiguously in the public interest (like ameliorating the worst effects of a global melt-down), he identifies handing over of governmental power to "the market," that is, to market actors, these same entrenched legacy dirty fuels industries who will slow down our dealing with the problems described in Friedman's book, as fundamentally undermining democracy. Lessig would say, "you think?"

These two men present interesting perspectives from which to consider the debates this weekend over the competing versions of the stimulus package making its way towards signature by the President in a little over a week (if he gets his wish). The House version does not profess the current wisdom: that government is the enemy; that tax cuts (ie, disempowering the government) are the answer to everything; that businesses given more money to do what they do best will "save" the economy and our country from this current economic crisis. Of course, those who firmly, sincerely believe this, do not accept that these ideas are responsible for getting us into this mess to begin with and cannot get us out of it.

The Senate version is cleaned out of all manner of spending and beefed up with tax cuts to take spending's place, but it will get the 60 votes needed to pass without a filibuster. And we all presume there would be a filibuster if there were not 60 votes. Some, maybe many, Republican Senators would be more than happy to use whatever power they have to push their belief that government spending is bad. McCain, having been beaten badly in the Presidential election, nevertheless unabashedly introduced a 400 billion dollar alternative, more than likely mostly comprised of tax cuts, which Republicans unanimously endorsed. Nothing more clearly demonstrates the battle of ideas that is going on in Washington this weekend. How can it be that not a single Republican has the slightest doubt in the truth of their vision when their policy choices (diminishing government as much as possible; handing over as much control as possible to the economic sphere, to executives who have no responsibility to do anything other than show a good next quarter) are so heavily implicated in our current debacle? White might suggest that the reason is that they are the direct beneficiaries, each and every one of them, of that transfer of power to economic actors. It has or soon will make every one of them very, very rich. And rich is the height of achievement in America now.

Well, there's little I can do about my old-school Republican Senators, Hutchison and Cornyn. I've sent emails to both of them. They are quite vocally opposed to the plan. So, not to shift gears too quickly, but, back at the casita, in a tiny effort to walk the walk, I signed up for Austin's GreenChoice energy plan, increasing demand for renewables and locking in a voluntarily higher price for our fuel for electricity for the next 5 years. Should have gone for 10 but I had a hard time explaining even 5 to my husband (D: "Can we get out of it?" G: "I don't want to get out of it!" D: "Did you even see a contract?"...), who, as our fiscal conservative, sees any additional expenditure (no matter how much of an "investment" it is) as a bad thing when we, along with everyone else, are nervous about our financial futures.

And I bought 20 new compact flourescents to change out the bulbs we use the most. I didn't change them all out yet because I wanted to experiment with the soft-bright-daylight varieties of bulbs. Each of these gives a different "color" of light and a different amount of lumens at the same watts, so they are not interchangeable. I want to test them out for a week or so and see which works best for overhead, for reading, and for indirect room lighting. Then I'll buy more and finish the job. I got a great deal on them. At Home Depot they were all on sale, on average a little over $2.00 each (buying 4 and 2 to a package, depending on the watt size), but with City of Austin rebates for EnergyStar items, the price for 20 came down to just under $1.50 each, including tax.

Already I'm finding that the "soft white" is the best for just about everything. I don't like daylight (very blue, very weird looking). I don't know about the one in the middle yet (bright white). I am trying it in a lamp beside the kitchen table where I do some, but not much, reading. At 60 watts equivalent, it may be too little for reading, but the color is not as weird as the daylight variety.

Next, on to the big-ticket items: AC, heating and laundry.

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